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Red Sox notebook

Hill is angling for an edge

Bullpen hopeful throws sidearm

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / February 16, 2011

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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Rich Hill, once a starting pitcher for the Cubs, is trying to return to the big leagues as a reliever, and the transition included a radical change in his delivery.

Hill threw sidearm for his entire bullpen session yesterday and believes incorporating that delivery will help in his new role. It was an idea he talked about with former Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell last year.

“It’s very natural to me,’’ said Hill. “I feel comfortable doing it.’’

The Milton, Mass., native, who had extensive shoulder surgery in 2009, appeared in six games for the Sox last September and is in camp on a minor league contract. He is one of six lefthanders competing for a spot in the bullpen.

“This will give me a different look and it’s an advantage,’’ Hill said. “I’ve really embraced the idea. I think it’s the best thing for me.’’

Hill’s best pitch as a starter was an over-the-top curveball that broke sharply. When he throws sidearm, that pitch takes on what pitchers call a “Frisbee’’ motion.

Hill, who projects to be a specialist against lefthanded batters, is working on throwing an effective fastball inside to righthanders in the interest of being more versatile.

A trade with Cubs Righthander Robert Coello, who was designated for assignment last week, was traded to the Cubs for Double A second baseman Tony Thomas.

Thomas, 24, hit .276 with 29 doubles, 11 triples, 11 home runs, 73 RBIs, and 15 stolen bases for Tennessee last year. He is a former third-round draft choice from Florida State.

According to Baseball America, Thomas was the best second baseman in the Cubs system but not one of the team’s top 30 prospects.

Coello, 26, was signed out of independent ball before the 2009 season. He had a 4.76 ERA in six relief appearances last season after going 7-6 with a 3.86 ERA for Double A Portland and Triple A Pawtucket.

Head coaching Red Sox pitchers committed 21 errors last season, the most in baseball. They also misplayed bunts on several occasions, failing to record what should have been easy outs.

To combat that, the Sox now have a “game awareness’’ station for pitchers. The purpose is for the pitchers to discuss game situations with the coaching staff.

“It’s just talking,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “It’s just what it sounds like, walking through some of the things that are important to us, trying to slow the game down when it speeds up on pitchers.

“We do so many drills but there’s some psychological things and things they need to think about that we wanted to spend that time talking about.’’

Topics included holding runners at second and ways to combat stolen bases.

“We want the pitchers to know why we do things,’’ Francona said.

Role model Josh Beckett is the latest pitcher to comment on how Jarrod Saltalamacchia reminds him of Jason Varitek. Part of the reason is that Saltalamacchia spent much of the winter working with catching instructor Gary Tuck, one of Varitek’s mentors. Saltalamacchia has tried to pattern himself after Varitek, even while he played with the Rangers. “He does things like Tek now,’’ Beckett said. “There’s not a better guy to follow if you’re in that position. That’s a good guy to look like.’’ Saltalamacchia and Varitek were partners during the catching drills yesterday, something that will continue throughout camp.

Prospect suspended William Abreu, a pitcher on the Dominican Summer League roster, was suspended 50 games after testing positive for the steroid Nandrolone. Abreu, 19, was signed last fall and has yet to play a game . . . Kevin Youkilis has been getting to know new teammate Adrian Gonzalez. The subject of speed came up during one recent conversation. “Adrian’s informed me that he’s slower than Victor Martinez,’’ Youkilis said. “I don’t think that’s true. There’s no way he can be slower than Victor, and I’ve told Victor that.’’ Gonzalez has one career stolen base in 858 games. Martinez has three in 1,004.

Star on horizon Carl Crawford is scheduled to arrive in the area today and will be in camp tomorrow . . . Francona drilled a soft cloth baseball off Beckett’s face during a comebacker drill. “I hope somebody got that on video,’’ Beckett said, “because he’ll be hearing from my lawyers.’’ . . . Three pitchers in camp on minor league contracts are dealing with shoulder problems. Francona said Jason Bergmann has been shut down “for the near future’’ until the medical staff can get a better grasp on the situation. Brandon Duckworth and Tony Pena Jr. will not throw in the bullpen because of weakness but are allowed to do defensive drills . . . Youkilis donated a baseball scholarship to his alma mater, Cincinnati . . . Clay Buchholz and Tim Wakefield will return this season as Jimmy Fund cocaptains and will serve as the team’s ambassadors to the charity.

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.

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